Disillusioned with the lack of venues in Halifax for young bands and musicians to play live and find new audiences, Michael Ainsworth and Rothwell Shackleton decided to take matters into their own hands. Their efforts to start a regular live music night struck a chord with fans - and 10 years on the two promoters are celebrating a decade of being in the Doghouse. With friends and supporters helping out - including designing the distinctive Doghouse logo - the gigs became part of Calderdale cultural life, attracting new bands and up-and-coming names. Highlights have featured unique gigs at Halifax Minster by artists such as singer John Grant and Midlake and music festivals in the Piece Hall, the Shears Inn and in the Lake District. Michael said: “I don’t think either of us thought the Doghouse would last as long as it has or that we would achieve so much. “Once we got to two years, I thought it would be good if we could continue longer than The Return Club, a roving music venue which ran in Halifax from 1989 to 1992. But we have surpassed that by getting to 10 years. Rothwell Shackleton - better known as Shack - said: “I have loved being able to bring some amazing artists to Halifax and, in a small way, add to the cultural life of the town. Ten years on we feel that more than ever. We’ve lost track of how many artists we’ve brought to play for us but it must be going on for 500 now.”
For the first five years, Doghouse gigs were held at the former Royal Oak pub and audiences were built on the back of sell-out shows by I Like Trains, Martin Stephenson and The Courteeners. Two outdoor shows were staged and the Doghouse promoters also put together a programme for a stage at the Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham for two years.
When the Royal Oak closed, a few venues were tried before Michael and Shack settled on the 100-year-old Arden Road Social Club in Bell Hall.
“It wasn’t the most obvious choice in some ways but it appealed to us because we thought our use would help in some small way to keep the club going.
“That was important to us because we believe in doing things for the betterment of the town. To that end Doghouse paid for improvements and decorations to the main concert room and in January 2013 more than 20 regulars gave up their time to help decorate the club.” As Doghouse grew into its new home, Michael and Shack took the bold step of organising a series of gigs at Halifax Minster, overcoming their initial scepticism to bring a number of successful artists to the atmospheric venue. Shack said: “The idea was first put to us by Canon Hilary Barber, vicar of Halifax, and it’s fair to say we were at first sceptical. But they turned into the best thing we have ever done.”
Choosing a mix of artists that suited the beauty of the ancient building, creating the atmosphere with lighting and putting a bar at the back of the church turned out to be a winning formula for audiences, performers - and the church itself.
John Grant enjoyed the experience so much that he played at the Minster twice and other artists to have given outstanding performances include I Am Kloot, Low, Efterlang, The Unthanks and Texan band Midlake.
Jesse Chandler of Midlake said: “I had one of the most memorable and magical concerts of my life at Halifax Minster. It was so special it might actually be my favourite Midlake show ever. The atmosphere was just incredible.
“The best part for me was being able to play the organ, which literally shook the ground and overpowered the entire band. The audience was incredibly gracious and enthusiastic and it was just a beautiful experience for the band.”
Tijinder Singh and Ben Ayres of the band Cornershop and founders of Ample Play Records said the Doghouse promoters were to be congratulated on giving a warm Yorkshire welcome to non-UK bands while Holly Ross of The Lovely Eggs said Arden Road Social Club was one of the best ‘old school’ venues in the country.
To mark 10 years of Doghouse gigs, the Decade Festival on Saturday, March 14 will see many favourite bands return.
Taking to the stage will be The Lovely Eggs, Allusondrugs, Laurel Canyons, Post War Glamour Girls, Astral Plain, Pink Rick and Rook and the Ravens. The music runs from 3pm until late and entertainment has a family friendly vibe until 7.30pm. Food will be available.
Michael said: “We are immensely proud of what we have achieved. There aren’t many not-for-profit music promoters in the UK who do what they do out of a desire to improve the cultural life where they are based. “We try to do our bit with our pricing policy and by giving countless local artists the chance of a paid support. “We currently send out emails to around 1,000 regular supporters and we hope to see as many as possible on our big day, March 14.”